The magical and the mundane
The iPhone—and by extension, the smartphone—is a decade old. Ian Bogost has written an interesting piece in The Atlantic charting our changing relationship with the technology.
First, it was like a toy dog:
A device that could be cared for, and conspicuously so.
Then, it was like a cigarette:
A nervous tic, facilitated by a handheld apparatus that releases relief when operated.
Later, it was like a rosary:
Its toy-dog quirks having been tamed, its compulsive nature having been accepted, the iPhone became the magic wand by which all worldly actions could be performed, all possible information acquired.
Finally, it simply becomes …a rectangle.
Abstract, as a shape. Flat, as a surface. But suggestive of so much. A table for community. A door for entry, or for exit. A window for looking out of, or a picture for looking into. A movie screen for distraction, or a cradle for comfort, or a bed for seduction.
Design dissolves in behaviour. This is something that Ben wrote about recently in his excellent Slapdashery series: “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.”
Technology tweaks our desire for novelty; but as soon as we get it we’re usually bored. There are no technologies that I can think of that haven’t become mundane.
This is something I touched on in my talk last year at An Event Apart. There’s a thread throughout the talk about Arthur C. Clarke, and of course I quote his third law:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
I propose an addendum to that:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic at first.
The magical quickly becomes the mundane. That’s exactly the point that Louis CK is making in the piece that Ben references.
Seven years ago Frank wrote his wonderful essay There Is A Horse In The Apple Store:
I have a term called a “tiny pony.” It is a thing that is exceptional that no one, for whatever reason, notices. Or, conversely, it is an exceptional thing that everyone notices, but quickly grows acclimated to despite the brilliance of it all.
We are surrounded by magical tiny ponies. I mean, just think: right now you are reading some words at a URL on the World Wide Web. Even more magically, I just published some words at my own URL on the World Wide Web. That still blows my mind! I hope I never lose that feeling.